Real Madrid are looking forward to playing in their 17th European Cup final after incredibly overturning a first-leg deficit against Manchester City at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu this evening.
Carlo Ancelotti’s newly-crowned Spanish champions headed into tonight’s second leg on home soil with City enjoying the slendest of leads (4-3) but Pep Guardiola’s men sensationally collapsed and suffered a 3-1 loss after 120 minutes of action.
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Defending a one-goal lead, Guardiola fielded his strongest possible lineup and the Premier League leaders were seemingly cruising through until Real’s super-sub Rodrygo netted an unbelievable two-minute brace in stoppage time. He subsequently cancelled out Riyad Mahrez’s opener and by doing so forced extra-time. Following the quick turnaround the unusually quiet Karim Benzema won a penalty which he duly converted.
He’s now scored in his last five Champions League appearances (totalling 10 goals) and it meant for the first time in the tie Real led. The lethal French marksman currently sits on 43 for the season in all competitons and is the overwhemly favourite to pick up the illustrious Ballon d’Or prize. Fittingly enough Benzema’s biggest threat for the award comes in the guise of Reds talisman Mohamed Salah who he will go head-to-head in 24 days time.
No one exemplifies Real’s never-say-die attitude than ‘King Karim’, who is the competition’s top scorer with 15 goals, he played a starring role in their comeback wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea (including back-to-back hat-tricks). This latest display of intestinal fortitude has seen them not only outdo themselves but in the process set-up a historic final.
We meet again
Twenty-four hours earlier Liverpool booked their Eurostar tickets at the expense of Villarreal meaning English football’s most in-form side will battle with a familiar foe to lift European football’s grandest prize later this month. By setting up their Paris date this will be the first three-time European Cup final meeting between the same clubs. It also happens to be the ‘rubber match’ in their own unique mini-series as the Reds triumphed on Parisian soil in 1981 before Los Blancos gained a semblance of revenge a few years ago to lift their record-extending 13th crown.
Ancelotti also has previous with Liverpool at this stage as he’s faced them before on two occasions; famously snatching defeat from the jaws of victory while leading Milan in 2005 before holding on to win his second European Cup and the Rossoneri‘s seventh two years later. That is the magic number Liverpool are now chasing as well as the Premier League and FA Cup to complete an unprecedented quadruple.
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Jurgen Klopp, though, would have expected to square off against his arch-nemesis Guardiola who is about to face a wave of questions. The pair had faced each other 24 times before with one of those previous games being a final. Guardiola won that day, his Bayern Munich team winning the 2014 DFB-Pokal at Borussia Dortmund’s expense. It was during his time at Bayern where Guardiola’s pedigree at this level was remarkably questioned.
The two-time European Cup-winning manager couldn’t get beyond the semi-finals in Bavaria furthering the talking point of him needing Lionel Messi to win the big one. Guardiola had the opportunity to dismiss that misguided narrative last season but in the third-ever all-Premier League final City fell to a 1-0 loss against Chelsea. This setback is more painful especially when at one point they were two goals clear of the Spanish giants.
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In the opening half they produced no fewer than four shots on target compared to Real’s none. It became 3-5 in City’s favour after the break with Riyad Mahrez’s effort breaking the deadlock. By netting Mahrez scored his seventh goal in the Champions League this season, the most by any City player in the competition, overtaking Raheem Sterling in 2019/20 (six goals).
Crucially two of those aforementioned Real efforts belonged to Rodgryo who became the first Madrid player to score two from the bench in a Champions League match since Gareth Bale did so against Liverpool in the 2018 final. As for Guardiola he’s now suffered six eliminations at the semi-final stage of the Champions League; the joint-most of any manager, along with his frenemy José Mourinho. Ancelotti, meanwhile, can start to prepare for his fifth European Cup final as manager, the most of any head coach in history.